Monday, 20 June 2011

Return to Kelvingrove, anxious anticipation for Riverside

It is 7 weeks since I last visited Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow and blogged my thoughts here on how disappointed I was with the way it appeared a bit shabby and poorly maintained so soon after a major refurbishment. Glasgow has decided that "culture" can be a resource for the future of the city, generating visitors and income lost with the decline of heavy industry. To this end, alongside the established museums, the new transport museum is about to open in Zaha Hadid's impressive Riverside Museum, part of a "plan" to make something of the Clyde, the neglected heart of the city. I hope it works, but the Clydeside area around it has already been described, accurately I think, in one review as "like an underplanned business estate".

The fear I have is that the council are trying to do it on the cheap, cutting too many corners, building and renovating nice spaces then standing back whilst they decay. Closing attractions on Mondays is just one symptom of this. Look at all the buckets that still stand embarrassingly in the Burrell Museum to collect the rainwater that comes in any time there is inclement weather in Glasgow (it has apparently been noted to rain occaisionally in this dear green place), or the cracked display cases inside and taped off area of the new steps outside the People's Palace, crumbling and unsafe (and unrepaired). After my last visit to the Arty Gartys I tried to think back to walking around some of the big European or London museums I've been to and could not remember seeing "out of order" signs everywhere, broken interactive displays, torn notices and knackered children's interactive exhibits. Well, if that is what you like, Kelvingrove seems to be the place for you to visit Mr Potential Tourist.

So good luck to the Riverside Museum, I'm truly excited about taking my children to see it. But if it is full of interactive computer screens and the hands-on displays that modern museums need, these things need to be looked after, money spent maintaining them and staff employed to supervise their use. Everybody would agree that these places are worth building and enrich the city, but they should not be allowed to crumble, decay and close like the shipyards before them that suffered badly from years of underinvestment whilst the rest of the world sailed past us.

 So have all the broken things I came across last time been fixed? Have any of them?

29th April "This interactive will be fixed by the end of April"
29th April "irreparably broken and will be removed by end June"
April 29th "will be repaired by 1st June"
So seven weeks on, what progress has been made?

20th June, end of April long gone - not fixed, but the sign removed
20th June, still "will be repaired by 1st June"
Wow, that'll be impressive.
20th June, time running out, but plan still to remove it by end June
That is pretty poor I think you'd have to agree. Even when aware of what work needs done, it does not seem to be performed. As before 3 out of the 6 PCs upstairs were broken with "we are working on correcting the problem" labels on them. There are plenty more examples..., no I can't.
...but I'm depressing myself now. One good point was that on the exhibition on Egyptian funerary canopic jars, an organ has appeared. Last time there was only 1 of the 4 organs, now there are 2, so that's good for kids to play with. Proof of an afterlife?
Does the apparent lack of infrastructure maintenance also extend to the work of a museum in conserving the collection? I don't know, but upon reading the notices today it does appear that work does seem to drag on. There is still the sign where the peacock with an "infestation" was removed from display in March 2009. Also a painting, The Tower of Brass by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, removed from the wall for "conservation work" in 10.1.2008 is still missing. The Buka War painting has a tag marking its space on the wall as it is apparently out on loan to St Andrews until October 2010. 

Glasgow Life? Write your own punchline.

Friday, 29 April 2011

First Impressions of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum?

I live in Glasgow and a trip to the Arty Garties (or Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum to give it its Sunday name) has always been a weekend regular for Glaswegians, young and old. 6 years ago it was re-opened after three years of extensive refurbishment, with much fanfare and anticipation. Like many locals I contributed to the refurbishment fund, proud to see my name up on the wall in the main hall.

On visiting it after re-opening I had bits which I liked, bits I found odd, bits that I missed from before, but it is clear that refurbishment was overdue. However, in the past I had been in and out the Art Galleries often, alone or with my children, with the new improved version I didn't have that same draw to keep returning. There can be few tourists who visit Glasgow and don't drag themselves along to the Art Galleries to look around. So visiting there today I tried to visualise it through their eyes, imagining that I was a tourist with a couple of children in tow (that part I didn't have to imagine). Would I be entertained, enlightened, impressed or - heaven forbid - disappointed?

This is important as museums in Glasgow previously run by the council are now run by Glasgow Life, an operating name of Culture and Sport Glasgow whose stated aims include a plan...

  • to enhance and promote the City’s local, national and international image, identity and infrastructure
    This same mob will be the same ones running the new Riverside / Transport Museum when it opens in June. Again it looks lovely so far, and the plan is to allow visitors to be more interactive with the exhibits and "dedicated IT stations will enable visitors to share their thoughts on the Museum to show what subjects and themes are preferred to be displayed in the future."

  • All very laudable, but once these museums are opened, they need to stay open (eg not closed on Mondays, or opening as late as 11am as the gaggle of foreign tourists and me found today outside Kelvingrove as we clutched the locked bars begging to be let in). Once inside you expect the "dedicated IT stations" to work, the exhibits and hands-on bits to entertain children to work. Otherwise you leave a disappointed tourist thinking that this city doesn't care about art, museums, history, looking after young visitors, etc. That is what I would think as a visitor to Kelvingrove today, and it makes me fear for the future of the Riverside Museum once it opens the doors to let us in.

    In the last four weeks I've been to the Scottish Maritime Museum in Dumbarton, Tate Liverpool, The Merseyside Maritime Museum, The International Slavery Museum, The Lady Lever Art Gallery  and Hill House in Helensburgh. In not ONE of these places can I remember seeing broken displays, closed rooms for staffing problems out of order computers and interactive exhibits. If they can do it, why can't we! Here are some tourist snaps I took today...

    Several touchscreen exhibits were out of order
    Half the PCs or "dedicated IT stations" were out of order
    Peacock removed because of "infestation" 2 years ago! Time to just destroy the bird and take the label away now?
    Lots of hands-on stations like this had ALL the bits missing
    Broken camera, will be fixed by...tomorrow. Not
    Kids can try to make this chair, with 2 missing pieces and tatty seat.
    Another broken machine
    Most of the bits missing on this Egyptian exhibition
    Flooring taped up rather than repaired in numerous places
    Several flaps children are to lift up are missing, this one shows a bent and torn picture underneath
    I don't think this was ever working for long, finally getting the chuck rather than repaired/ maintained
    More broken computers
    Flooring like this in several places 6 years after refurbishment.